November 4, 2019 — Italian

Panelle (Sicilian Chickpea Fritters) with Lemon Basil Flowers

  • 1 hour plus cooling time
  • 12 PEOPLE
  • medium

A Sicilian speciality made with chickpea flour. I’ve made my variety using lemon-scented basil flowers from Casanova & Daughters of Covent Garden.

A Sicilian specialty made with chickpea flour. I've made my variety using lemon-scented basil flowers from Casanova and Daughters of Covent Garden.

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Share this yummy recipe with a friend on WhatsApp

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What you need

250g gram flour (chickpea flour)

1 lt water

Large pinch of salt

2 tbs basil flowers (or use 1-2 tsp alternative lemon-scented herb such as lemon thyme, lemon balm or verbena…)

Small handful fresh parsley


Dad's Recipe Tales

Panelle are Sicilian chickpea fritters, popular as a street food snack. They featured in the Palermo sequence of Rick Stein’s Long Weekends television programmes. In the programme, Rick cooks panelle with Duchess Nicoletta Polo Lanza Tomasi in her aristocratic palazzo. Rick is clearly charmed by the Duchess and starts to chat about Il Gattopardo, (the Leopard), the iconic Italian novel chronicling Sicilian life and society during Italy’s tumultuous period of reunification. Later Rick helps cook the panelle, which mainly involves vigorous stirring and heating of a thick gloopy paste made from ceci (chickpea) flour and water. Given his credentials as a chef, he coped fairly well with this rather undignified task, especially when Duchess gently reprimanded him about his stirring.

When the panelle were finally fried and ready to eat, Rick suggested they would go well with a beer, perhaps a cheeky ploy to discover if Duchesses drink beer. Indeed they do, and scene ends with raised glasses and a ‘Saluti!’

These video clips can come in handy for the home cook; their visual cooking demonstrations can often be far more useful than recipes alone. For instance, I have seen many recipes for panelle with wildly different quantities of water, ranging from twice the volume of water to flour to four and a half times the volume. One recipe says to add ‘sufficient’ water. I first used about twice the volume and scuppered the mix after it quickly set like an artists’ plaster. I then tried four times the volume of water, which works much better. Some recipes instruct us to cook the panelle briefly, whilst others recommend cooking at least 40 minutes: until the mixture ‘comes away from the side of the pan’, like polenta. My first batch used the ‘side-of-pan’ method, but when I spread it out on a baking tin to harden it had already started to set on the spatula, resulting in much waste and broken and crumbly panelle. That is when I went back to the video clip to check on the consistency of the Duchess’s paste. I could see the mixture was the texture of a loose semolina pudding rather than a stiff polenta, a texture achieved with about four times the volume of water to flour and less time on the stove.

After cooking the panelle on the stove, it must be set. The usual method is to spread it out on a shallow baking tin. But the Duchess put her mixture into an old oil can, removing both ends of the can so the panelle paste can be pushed out and cut with a knife into neat discs. I decide to follow the Duchess, swapping a large tin of ground coffee for an oil can.

I flavour my panelle with parsley and basil flowers scented with lemon. The dried herbs come in paper-wrapped, tied bundles from Casanova & Daughters’ (Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden). I wanted to find new recipes for their basil flowers and remembered that it’s traditional to serve panelle with lemon. So there we have it: a nod to an Italian Duchess for a foolproof method of cooking panelle, inspired by Casanova and Daughters’ lemon-scented basil flowers.

NB: You can stay in apartments in Duchess Nicoletta Polo Lanza Tomasi’s palazzo and attend her cooking classes. Follow this link:

How Dad Cooked It

My Panelle (Sicilian Chickpea Fritters) recipes uses a coffee can to set the panelle paste. The usual method is to spread out onto an oiled shallow baking tray with a spatula. Other versions use a lined loaf tin. The thickness of a panelle varies from recipe to recipe. The Duchess cuts hers to the thickness of a potato crisp.

  1. Pour the water into a large saucepan and add the salt and flour. Whisk until the flour is incorporated into the water and there are no lumps.
  2. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the mixture on a medium high heat. When it starts to thicken lower the heat and continue to stir for about 15 minutes, beating out any lumps that form.
  3. Chop the parsley and the herbs and add to the mixture. Continue to stir and cook for another 5-10 minutes. The mixture should be smooth enough easily scoop into a container.
  4. Decide on your container. Using cans cut the top and base from the tin, inspect to ensure there are no sharp edges, if there are smooth with a hard metal object. Oil the inside of the tin block one end (using cling film – or if using a coffee can the plastic lid that is supplied) and pour in the cooked paste. Using a loaf tin, line with oiled baking parchment and pour in the paste, or if using a shallow baking tray, oil the tray and pour in smoothing with a spatula. NB: As you will realise it helps to have a smooth and loose consistency, extended cooking (or using less water) will make the mixture very stiff and difficult to handle.
  5. Let the mixture cool thoroughly – about a couple of hours.
  6. If using a can, push the paste through the tin and slice of pieces with a sharp knife. The thickness is a matter of preference, thinner makes a crunchy crisp-like texture, and thicker makes a crunch outer and softer inner texture. I cut my panelle about 2-3mm thick. If using a loaf tin, empty the set panelle and cut slices with a sharp knife. For the baking tray, cut paste into squares.
  7. Heat about 1 cm of light vegetable oil in a large saucepan. The oil should be hot without smoking, about 180C. Fry for a couple of minutes on each side or until just starting to colour – depending on the thickness of the panelle. Scatter with salt crystals, extra basil flowers and lemon.
  8. Panelle are best eaten soon after frying, however, they will keep well for a couple of days in an airtight container in the fridge. Heat in the oven.
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